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Feedback Is Foundational for Futurecasting

Setting the Stage

Often, clients want to move faster in their DIB journey than they are ready for. They want to roll up their sleeves and get into the deeper issues of racial equity and justice. While enthusiasm is energizing, realism is required. The reality is that a DIB journey is a marathon, not a sprint. In any case, the runner must be prepared for the race, especially one of endurance.

Background Information

After experiencing their first Mastermind session on trust, a particular client felt disappointed that, while purposeful, the work didn’t appear to go deep enough. Psychological safety is essential to eventually pursue a “deep dive” exploration into racism in a way that carefully fosters a willingness to be uncomfortable enough to learn.  Where the group desires to go is like a marathon and the team must prepare for the race --mentally, emotionally, physically-- as it can become daunting.

The Challenge

This client had an expectation of adhering to a straight pathway to Belonging which isn’t possible in this work. While we can set our sights on the destination of Belonging, there will be detours, fits, and starts along the way.  At times, the journey will take two steps forward and three steps back which is to be expected. Trusting the process is emphasized often.

The Approach

Broadly defined, futurecasting is the practice of trying to envision a company’s future. In the work of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging (DIB), the desired future necessitates cultivating a company culture in which everyone experiences an undeniable sense of Belonging.  Feedback is foundational to futurecasting because it requires first listening to understand, then solving.

To prepare the client to solve for the issues that will be presented throughout their journey of Belonging, the first step was to introduce models associated with change management in a way that would enable the client to listen to understand, and accept, not reject, what the organizational system-of-systems tells them about:

  • The process for pursuing change: Bridges Transition Model:  ending | neutral zone | new beginning

  • The process for accepting change: Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle:  denial | anger | bargaining | depression | acceptance

  • The process for implementing change: ADKAR Model:  awareness | desire | knowledge | ability | reinforcement

The Psychological SAFETY Model is the foundation needed to transition through the above processes because it enables people to embrace change as something they can join in, rather than view change as something being done to them. It helps people understand what they need most to experience in terms of personal security, autonomy, fairness, esteem, and trust to become wholehearted supporters and champions of the journey, not skeptics and critics of the journey.

The Outcomes

Having experienced a crash course in organizational change, it was clearer to the client that expecting to jump into the deeper challenges associated with DIB without first becoming educated in the frameworks associated with change, specific to new ways of being, would not have been advisable. Passion for the work will only get an organization so far without a baseline understanding of what will be required of individuals, teams, and organizational subcultures that reside within the corporate culture.

The Insights

In parallel with the ability to give and receive feedback effectively is the ability to become vulnerable. Usually, vulnerability is associated with the word weakness. However, when presented with a definition of vulnerability as:  the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally (or psychologically), bravery and courage are more appropriately aligned with vulnerability. Vulnerability is essential to the feedback loop.

When asked to participate in a triad-role play exercise examining a real-world situation in which feedback needed to be given, those who received the feedback sometimes felt offended, even though observers of the interaction were clear that the scenario had nothing to do with the person roleplaying the receiver of the feedback.  Some comments heard in the debrief were:

  • “We’re still new at doing this so we feel vulnerable and uncertain as the giver, the receiver, or the observer”

  • “Giving feedback wasn’t that scary” because we kept it nice and surface level”

  • “Givers primarily shared positive comments, not opportunities to improve;  people can’t fix what they don’t know”

  • “Receiving feedback was hard not to be offended, even though the scenario was fictional, not about the receiver”

The comments above beg the question, “What makes feedback challenging in this organization and how will “pulling punches” in a fictional feedback scenario affect the team’s ability to pursue the desired deep dive into racial equity and justice?”  Unless and until individuals, teams, and organizational subcultures are willing to become vulnerable enough to develop listening skills that help them better engage in the essential process of feedback, futurecasting the culture of Belonging will be a more arduous journey than it already is.

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